Remembering Harry Kroto

Harry KrotoA giant among giants

Harry Kroto, distinguished chemist and pioneering nanocarbons researcher, passed away on April 30, 2016 at the age of 76. Kroto, a giant among giants, made an immense impact not only on ECS and its scientific discipline – but the world at large.

“Harry Kroto’s passing is a great loss to science and society as a whole,” says Bruce Weisman, professor at Rice University and division chair of the ECS Nanocarbons Division. “He was an exceptional researcher whose 1985 work with Rick Smalley and Bob Curl launched the field of nanocarbons research and nanotechnology.”

Revolutionizing chemistry

That work conducted by Kroto, Smalley, and Curl yielded the discovery of the C60 structure that became known as the buckminsterfullerene (or the “buckyball” for short). Prior to this breakthrough, there were only two known forms of pure carbon: graphite and diamond. The work opened a new branch in chemistry with unbound possibilities, earning the scientists the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The field of nanocarbons and fullerenes, since the discovery by Kroto and company, has evolved into an area with almost limitless potential. The applications for this scientific discipline are wide-ranging – from energy harvesting to sensing and biosensing to biomedical applications and far beyond. Research in this field continues to fill the pages of scholarly journals, making possible innovations that were not even conceived before the seminal 1985 work.

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Improving Energy Storage

Nanoparticles have been central to many recent developments, including computing, communications, energy, and biology. However, because nanoparticles are hard to observe, it’s often difficult to pick the best shapes and sizes to perform specific tasks at optimal capacity.

That may be a problem no longer thanks to research out of Stanford University, where researchers gazed inside phase-changing nanoparticles for the first time – allowing them to understand how shape and crystallinity can have dramatic effects on performance.

Practically, this means that the design of energy storage materials could begin to change.

Take the lithium-ion battery, which stores and releases energy due to the electrode’s ability to sustain large deformations over several charge and discharge cycles without degrading. By nanosizing the electrode, researchers recently improved upon the efficiency process.

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Nanostructures

Nanostructures on the surface of the fabric.
Image: Queensland University of Technology

Oil spills have had an extensive history of disrupting the environment, killing ecosystems, and displacing families. Impacts of massive oil spills are still felt in many parts of the world, including the undersea spill at the BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that dumped an approximate 39 million gallons of oil into the gulf.

But what if these devastating oil spills could be easily cleaned up with a piece of fabric rooted in electrochemistry?

That may be a reality soon thanks to researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). According to a release, the QUT researchers have developed a multipurpose fabric covered with semi-conducting nanostructures that can both mop up oil and degrade organic matter when exposed to light.

(READ: “Superhydrophobic Fabrics for Oil/Water Separation Based on the Metal-Organic Charge-Transfer Complex CuTCNAQ“)

The fabric, which repels water and attracts oil, has already has promising preliminary results. In the early stages of research, the scientists have already been able to mop up crude oil from the surface of both fresh and salt water.

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Artificial limbs have experience tremendous evolution in their long history. Throughout history, we’ve gone from the peg leg of the Dark Ages to technologically advanced modern day prosthesis that mimic the function of a natural limb. However, most prosthesis still lack a sense of touch.

Zhenan Bao, past ECS member and chemical engineer at Stanford University, is at the forefront of the research looking to change that.

(MORE: Read Bao’s past meeting abstracts in the ECS Digital Library for free.)

Recently on NPR’s All Things Considered, Bao described her work in developing a plastic artificial skin that can essentially do all the things organic skin can do, including sensing and self-healing.


The self-healing plastic Bao uses mimics the electrical properties of silicon and contains a nano-scale pressure sensor. The sensor is then connected to electrical circuits that connect to the brain, transmitting the pressure to the brain to analyze as feeling.

Additionally, the skin is set to be powered by polymers that can turn light into electricity.

While there is still much work to be done, Bao and her colleagues believe that this product could help people who have lost their limbs regain their sense of touch.

A research team, including ECS members Stephen Doorn and Erik H Hároz, has created flexible, wafer-scale films of highly aligned and closely packed carbon nanotubes thanks to a simple filtration process. In a discovery that was previously though impossible, the researchers found that in the right solution and under the right conditions, the tubes can assemble themselves by the millions into long rows.

(ICYMI: Get the freshman 101 on carbon nanotubes from nanocarbons expert Bruce Weisman.)

This development could help bring flexible electronics to actuality, especially with the special electronic properties of the nanotubes.

“Once we have centimeter-sized crystals consisting of single-chirality nanotubes, that’s it,” said Junichiro Kono, Rice University physicist leading the study. “That’s the holy grail for this field. For the last 20 years, people have been looking for this.”

Bruce Weisman, chemistry and materials science professor at Rice University, is internationally recognized for his contributions to the spectroscopy and photophysics of carbon nanostructures. He is a pioneer in the field of spectroscopy, leading the discovery and interpretation of near-infrared fluorescence for semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Aside from his work at Rice University, Weisman is also the founder and president of Applied NanoFluorescence.

Weisman is currently the Division Chair of the ECS Nanocarbons Division, which will be celebrating 25 years of nanocarbons symposia at the upcoming 229th ECS Meeting in San Diego, CA, May 2016. Since starting in 1991, the symposia has totaled 5,853 abstracts at ECS biannual meetings, with Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley delivering the inaugural talk.

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Glucose monitoring has had a long history with electrochemical science and technology. While ECS Honorary Member Adam Heller’s continuous glucose monitoring system for diabetes management may be the first innovation that comes to mind, there is a new electrochemical bio-sensing tool on the horizon.

(WATCH: ECS Masters – Adam Heller)

Researchers have combined graphene with a tiny amount of gold to enhance the wonder material’s properties and develop a flexible skin patch to monitor blood glucose and automatically administer drugs as needed.

This from Extreme Tech:

[As] cool as a non-invasive blood-glucose monitor is, it’s nearly as revolutionary as what comes next: treatment. The patch is studded with “microneedles” that automatically cap themselves with a plug of tridecanoic acid. When high blood-glucose levels are detected, the patch heats a small heater on the needles which deforms the plug and allows the release of metformin, a common drug for treatment of type 2 diabetes. Cooling naturally restores the plug and stops drug release.

Read the full article.

This development is a huge stepping stone in the transformation of graphene as a laboratory curiosity to a real product. While it has taken a while due to the questions of the new material’s intrinsic properties, researchers believe that graphene-based products could soon be hitting the market.

Do you want to be forever externalized? Then look no further than this new quartz coin that can store the history of humankind for 14 billion years.

As if the previous breakthrough of quartz glass storage that yielded a self-life of 300 million years wasn’t enough, the new research take nanotechnology to a whole new level.

To understand exactly how long 14 million years is, check out these stats via Futurism:

  • Age of Earth: 4.534 billion years
  • Age of the Universe: 13.82 billion years

The research comes out of Southampton University, where the group has essentially developed a way to fit on just one sliver of nanostructured quartz 350TB of information.

This form Futurism:

The technique uses femtosecond laser pulses to write data in the 3D structure of quartz at the nanoscale. The pulses create three layers of nanostructred dots, each just microns above the other. The changes in the structure can be read by interrogating the sample with another pulse of light and recording the orientation of the waves after they’ve passed through.

Read the full article.

At the very least, this development in 5D storage will change the way we archive historical information.

Graphene Simplifies Ice Removal

Graphene ice removal

Through a nanoribbon-infused epoxy, researchers were able to remove ice through Joule heating.
Image: Rice University

Graphene, better known as the wonder material, has seemingly limitless possibilities. From fuel cells to night-vision to hearing, there aren’t many areas that graphene hasn’t touched. Now, researchers from Rice University and transforming graphene for uses in air travel safety.

James Tour, past ECS lecturer and molecular electronics pioneer, has led a team in developing a thin coating of graphene nanoribbons to act as a real-time de-icer for aircrafts, wind turbines, and other surfaces exposed to winter weather.

(MORE: Read “High-Density Storage, 100 Times Less Energy“)

Through electrothermal heat, the graphene nanoribbons melted centimeter-thick ice on a static helicopter rotor blade in a -4° Fahrenheit environment.

This from Rice University:

The nanoribbons produced commercially by unzipping nanotubes, a process also invented at Rice, are highly conductive. Rather than trying to produce large sheets of expensive graphene, the lab determined years ago that nanoribbons in composites would interconnect and conduct electricity across the material with much lower loadings than traditionally needed.

Read the full article.

“Applying this composite to wings could save time and money at airports where the glycol-based chemicals now used to de-ice aircraft are also an environmental concern,” Tour said.

The coating may also protect aircrafts from lightning strikes and provide and extra layer of electromagnetic shielding.

World’s Most Expensive Material

The world’s most expensive material is being created in a lab and it’s going for $33,000 per 200 micrograms. To put that in perspective, that’s an astonishing $4.2 billion an ounce.

The novel material consists of molecular units called endohedral fullerenes, which are essentially a cage of carbon atoms containing nitrogen atoms.

Developers and scientists behind the material are focused on implementing the endohedral fullerenes into the development of a small, portable atomic clock. The atomic clock is the most accurate time-keeping system in the world and could assist in the accuracy of everything from a GPS to an automatic car.

“Imagine a minaturised atomic clock that you could carry around in your smartphone,” says Kriakos Porfyrakis, scientist working on the development of the material. “This is the next revolution for mobile.”

Aside from impacting cellphone technology, Porfyrakis expects the material to change transportation in a big way.

ICYMI: Learn about the early history of the Buckyball.

“There will be lots of applications for this technology,” says Lucius Cary, director of Oxford Technology SEIS fund. “The most obvious is in controlling autonomous vehicles. If two cars are coming towards each other on a country lane, knowing where they are to within 2m is not enough but to 1mm it is enough.”

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